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Estate jewelry is defined in this way: jewelry which has been previously owned. It could refer to a true antique (over 50 years old) or to a recently purchased item.
Nostalgia. Sentiment plays a large part in jewelry selection. People are searching more and more for reminders of past, more stable times. Just as the whole mood of nostalgia continues strong, older jewelry reminds them of those times.
Design. Individual craftsmen left their tell-tale mark of quality with an outstanding sense of shape and form. There were no machines stamping out pieces by the thousands, only individual artisans practicing their chosen profession of fabricating beautiful jewelry one piece at a time.
With the reign of Queen Victoria, Great Britain and France became a major jewelry center. The Industrial Revolution was creating a growing middle class that used jewelry to flaunt its new- found wealth. And with mechanization came the ability to mine precious metals and gemstones as well as to mass produce jewelry.
The romantic image of the young queen and her beloved consort, Prince Albert, influenced styles of her early and mid-reign. Seed pearls, shell cameos, strands of pearls and small colored stones such as garnets, amethysts and topaz were fashionable. With Albert's death in 1861, jewelry changed drastically as Victoria adopted heavy and somber jewelry to express her grief. Typical materials were jet, black onyx, tortoise shell and hair (usually horse hair), often set into heavy gold work.
Victoria was succeeded by her son Edward VII whose reign celebrated a joyous return to elegance. Jewelry complimented the laces, silks and feathers worn by Edwardian ladies. Diamonds were in profusion, either alone or with colored stones. Pearls were also very popular. Because of the metal strength of platinum -replacing gold in vogue - Edwardian jewelry was an engineering marvel. Delicate filigree work could now be fashioned to resemble fine lace, and hinges allowed movement in the pieces.
By the late 19th Century, Victorian sobriety and dignity were challenged by a strong counter-culture movement in all the decorative arts. Art Nouveau burst upon Europe and America alike with its romantic, light-hearted glory -the antithesis not only of its staid predecessor but also a reaction against the imitative, often crude, pieces which were the result of the Industrial Revolution.
Slim, ethereal figures appeared in art and jewelry as well. An Art Nouveau trademark is the head of a girl with a dreamy expression and swirling hair. Dragonflies, with their long delicate wings, and peacocks with their iridescent colors and stylized floral themes, were other expressions of the influences of nature.
While established jewelers continued to use diamonds and pearls in the new, dainty styles, French jeweler Rene Lalique extended his innovative look to ivory, horn, carved glass and enamel. Gemstones like opals and moonstones were often used. One American whose delicate designs and exquisite enameling left a strong impression on the Art Nouveau period was Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The soft tones of Art Nouveau gave way to a brasher, more sophisticated look. Flappers were in -and so was Art Deco! Born in France, Art Deco erupted in the United States.
Streamlined enameled pieces, often in bold colors, enhanced the angular looking clothing and design. Color combinations in gemstones were equally bold and bright. Rubies were set next to emeralds in massive brooches; coral and lapis lazuli or jade were frequently used together.
Luxury production halted in Europe because all platinum and most gold and silver were needed to fund World War II. During this period American jewelry came into its own. Influenced by Hollywood stars, pieces were flamboyant. Huge stones in oversized pieces emerged, often mounted in rose, green and/or yellow gold depending on the makeup of the alloy. After the United States entered the war, what jewelry produced was less romantic but still outsized. This trend continued until after the war when styles again softened.
Individual craftsmanship was not yet on the wane, however. One distinct trend to emerge after World War II was the use of gold. Gold had previously been used in mountings to stress the beauty of other elements of a jewelry piece- now it was being used as the sole element of fine jewelry. Many gold brooches available today, such as simple circle pins or more elaborate animals or flowers, can be traced to the trends of the 1950s.